Pros and cons of working as a substitute doctor

Pros and cons

Most medical professionals seek permanent positions in pharmacies, hospitals and clinics. It’s a great way to start building your reputation and continue learning in your chosen field. For many, this option isn’t very appealing and they seek alternative employment as a substitute doctor, also known as a locum doctor.

While not the first choice for many medical professionals, it’s a perfectly viable way for physicians to earn money and test their knowledge. Deciding on which path to take is difficult, which is why it’s important that you look at all the pros and cons of working as a locum doctor.

You’re your own boss

One of the greatest benefits of being a locum doctor is that you work for yourself. It’s this type of independence that attracts so many physicians to the job. You decide on the rates that you will charge clinics and it stays that way until you wish to change it. Do you want a higher paycheque? If you work in a sought-after field, there’s nothing stopping you from charging more.

Most locum doctors earn more than their standard practice counterparts, which makes the job look quite a bit more attractive. The potential for much higher pay isn’t the only advantage of being your own boss.

When tax season rolls around, your status as a self-employed contractor brings in additional benefits. You can claim additional expenses on your tax report and they will be deducted from your taxes. This will increase the amount of money you take home, effectively increasing your pay even further.

A fresh and dynamic work environment

It’s no secret that working as a GP isn’t the most exciting job out there. You’re likely to spend years treating the same patients in the same exact environment, with very few changes along the way. This is something that many young physicians don’t find appealing in their line of work. Not to mention, the bureaucracy and politics of the local health system can be a bit too much for doctors.

A physician might decide to become a locum doctor just to experience a more dynamic work environment. Having a fresh start in a new location brings you closer to new patients and more challenging cases to solve. This makes the job more interesting and appealing, as it removes the boredom element. 

Having more experience across several different practices also gives perspective to a young physician. You can get closer to the inner workings of a clinic or practice, giving you the knowledge you need to choose the right one for you, should you decide to settle and become a GP or find a different position.

Uncertain work conditions

Uncertainty is something that comes with working as a substitute doctor. While you may choose how you work, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to find enough work to keep you busy. A high paycheque doesn’t last you very long if you have to move around every couple of months. Moving is costly and there’s no guarantee you’ll find something better or equally good in time.

What if the practice or clinic that you’re aiming for doesn’t agree to your terms? There’s a risk that they might not want to pay you as much as you need. It depends on your skillset as a physician. A highly-skilled doctor in a specialized field will be a lot more desirable for work in a practice. Still, they might go for someone else or decide that it’s not an investment worth making.

Added flexibility

When you work as a locum doctor, you can set your own pace for work. You also decide exactly when and where you want to work. Instead of doing business with a single specific clinic for prolonged periods, you can choose your location. This provides you with the opportunity to travel as you work, allowing you to visit different destinations. It’s why being a substitute doctor is so attractive for many young physicians who want to see the world.

There’s also the added bonus of having a flexible work schedule in the clinics you choose. Since you’re not tied to any clinic or hospital, you can choose to stop working and move elsewhere without consequences. The temporary nature of the work is implied from the start, so there are no hard feelings from coworkers in your current practice or clinic.

Very little professional development

Every physician strives to engage in Continuing Professional Development, or CPD. You want to hone your profession and become a more experienced physician in your chosen field. This kind of progression can be recognized by the medical authority and populace of the area you’re working in. 

It’s a lot easier to garner a reputation and propose a revalidation in a controlled and constant environment, such as long-term employment in a salaried position. Complete audit cycles become a lot more complicated when you’re constantly moving from one place to another. This can hamper your professional development and make it more difficult to increase your earnings and reputation.

Lots of isolation

While being separated from the bureaucracy and politics of certain workplaces might sound appealing, losing out on socialization isn’t. If you don’t stick around too long in any given practice, it’s unlikely that you will form any meaningful connections or friendships with your coworkers. 

You’re often shown to your room by the practice manager and then left to deal with the patients. You have very little interaction with colleagues. Even if you do have some interaction with the rest of the staff, you will do so with caution. You’re aware that you will soon be moving to another clinic, so the limited time you have feels even shorter. In these scenarios, you might ask yourself why you should bother to try and socialize if it’s all for nothing. 

It’s a lonely line of work for those who wish to build strong connections and long-term cooperation with others in the profession. 


There are many benefits and drawbacks that come with being a substitute doctor. Choosing whether to take a salaried job or work as a freelancer is difficult for many young physicians. It’s important that you weigh the pros against the cons and decide based on your preferences. In the end, you can always choose the other option if you aren’t satisfied with your first choice.


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